Are Tennessee’s Civil War sites attracting fewer tourists?

May 30, 2019

Reenactments underway during Civil War Sesquicentennial events held at Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro.
Credit NPS

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (OSBORNE) -- Recent media reports note sharp declines in the number of visitors at Civil War sites nationwide, but the story for Tennessee appears more complex.

This past week, a story in the Wall Street Journal noted visitor counts at the top-five Civil War battlefields operated by the National Park Service have dropped by roughly two-thirds since 1970.

A story published last summer by the New York Times detailed flagging interest in Civil War reenactments. The article attributed the deline in part to the ongoing controversy surrounding how the war should be interpreted in general, and the place of Confederate monuments in particular.

What's happening at Tennessee’s major Civil War sites is more nuanced. For example, the number of visitors to Shiloh National Park and the Chattanooga-Chickamauga battlefields are down significantly compared to the 1970s. However, visitor counts for both locations have remained relatively stable for the last decade.

The number of people visiting Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro has actually increased, nearly tripling over the same time period.

Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West tells WMOT interest in state and local Civil War sites remains “strong” as well. In a recent email he suggested that may be due in part to a decision to tell the “whole story” of the war “at state and local sites 10 or more years ago.”

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